Opinion Columns & Blogs

Freeze tax breaks; restore revenue

Kansas is a great place to live. We want our policymakers to get the state's finances in order so that we can continue to offer our children the quality of life our parents built: caring communities, strong schools, clean air and good roads.

We're in a financial hole, so lawmakers should stop digging. Giving tax breaks and exemptions without taking a serious look at how those expenditures impact the budget is poor stewardship. That must change.

It's time for lawmakers to stop providing tax breaks and to restore lost revenue.

The Kansas Department of Revenue reports that tax exemptions from 1995 to 2010 resulted in more than $9.6 billion in cumulative lost revenue. The lost amount for 2010 is more than $869 million.

The Kansas National Education Association asks lawmakers to freeze and roll back tax breaks. A good place to start: Stop phasing in additional tax reductions, such as the corporate franchise tax.

The Kansas Advisory Council on Intergovernmental Relations, a council the Legislature created, recommends that $196 million in sales-tax exemptions be discontinued. These recommendations should be implemented.

KNEA also wants lawmakers to review the tax system and implement long-range improvements to meet the state's needs.

This crisis isn't just about schools; it's about our communities and way of life. Schools are the heart of Kansas communities. Good schools are the most significant economic driver in communities across the state; dollars spent on education are spent on Main Streets in every community in Kansas.

Good schools are an economic investment for our community and state. Research shows a strong correlation between the level of education and the economy, and companies are attracted to areas with good schools and an educated work force. As we develop new businesses, our young people will need skills for the new jobs. That happens in schools.

Some try to twist the numbers to imply that there really haven't been education cuts. Those folks aren't living in the real world of our schools.

Teachers across Kansas talk about the impact of the latest round of budget cuts, how those cuts have devastated schools. The loss of extra support to help good students excel — or to catch struggling students before they are failing — hurts kids. The shortage of classroom supplies to allow students to do real projects, rather than just work sheets, means our students won't have the kind of 21st-century skills that employers want. Students' ability to be engaged and to learn is affected when the rooms are cold, lights are turned off, supplies are limited, and staff stress is apparent.

Though teachers try to fill the gap by purchasing supplies out of pocket, they know they can't make up for all that students are missing with the cuts we have seen. Teachers are worried about their students' academic achievement and about their students' families. When other social services lag, schools often provide the additional support — from counseling services to food and clothing.

Students only get one chance at each grade. Can we deny them our best effort?

Help keep Kansas a great place to live. Know what services your friends and families use. Contact your legislators and tell them to stop giving out tax breaks and be good stewards for Kansas' future.